What Does Kwanzaa Mean To Us?

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

Going through my normal morning blog reading ritual, I came across a link to an article on the declining popularity of Kwanzaa.

The article begins:

When I first learned about Kwanzaa in the 1980s, I questioned the need to create an observance for African Americans. It felt too contrived: all those symbols and paraphernalia, all that ritual. Even the Swahili names for the seven days of the holiday rang false: Swahili is an East African language, and the majority of African Americans have origins in West Africa.

Still, the holiday caught on; Kwanzaa cards and wrapping paper lie on the shelves next to supplies for Hanukkah and Christmas. There is a Kwanzaa postage stamp, and each year, President Bush issues a Kwanzaa message. I’ve grown to appreciate Kwanzaa because I’ve seen how it unites disparate, even hostile, segments of the African American community.

These days, though, I fear for the future of Kwanzaa. The latest figures, from a 2004 study by the National Retail Foundation, say that just 13 percent of African Americans observe the holiday. When I go to Kwanzaa ceremonies, the audience is mostly folks in their 40s and older. I don’t see the younger people, the ones who need to embrace Kwanzaa and keep it vibrant.

When they look at Kwanzaa, do they see a relic from the ’60s?

Interesting question.

(For those of you not familiar with the specifics of Kwanzaa, please go and read the article. Before we continue, I need everyone to understand that Kwanzaa is NOT a substitute for Christmas.)

Kwanzaa is a strange holiday and it is still seen as not quite legitimate. After all, it is a cultural holiday in a season of religious based holidays. In some ways, Kwanzaa is kind of a relic from the 60s. That was back when African-Americans were struggling to form a national identity and show solidarity and that led to some of the pan-African celebrations and customs the community has embraced.

Now, many African-Americans are comfortable with their identity and have focused more on their individual lives. Kwanzaa is more of an after thought.

I was raised with Kwanzaa when I was younger. Every year, Mom broke out the kente cloth table mats, the ear of corn, the wooden chalice thing she bought from the black expo, our wooden carved kinara and the red, black, and green candles. We celebrated Kwanzaa every year for about five years.

As my sister and I entered adolescence our enthusiasm for the holiday waned. After a while, we stopped formally celebrating Kwanzaa.

(Though, I must mention that we were subject to random pop quizzes. “Spell kujichagulia and tell me what it stands for!”)

As an adult, I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa. (I also have yet to find enough Christmas spirit to decorate my studio.)

That will change in a few years though, when I have children.

Continue reading

Link Round Up: Articles of Interest from Around the Web

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

*Beauty in Baltimore
has posted two images and a provocative question. Go check it out for yourself.

*According to Tokyomango, even Buddhist Monks are using hip-hop to sell their services:

Titled the “Tokyo Bouz Collection,” the event featured 40 monks and nuns from eight major Buddhist sects blinged out in gold embroidered robes performing a rap version of a Budddhist sutra. They strutted the runway while chanting prayers and throwing confetti that looked like lotus petals.

*Michelle Singletary gives us all a 2008 financial to-do list.

*dnA on conservatives and binaries:

Black people don’t fit into easily described binary categories, especially not Steele’s regifting of the “good nigger/bad nigger” dynamic. If Steele was even slightly more intellectually honest, he would argue that part of negotiating race in America requires that one know when to bargain and when to demand. But even that college freshman level of insight is beyond the man.

*Jim K from Vigilance points us toward a Boston Globe article that gets the straight answers from presidential candidates about the Constitution and presidential power. Fascinating article.

*Tami writes on the idea of “erasing” race.

*The Washington Post ran an excellent op-ed explaining how putting a new face on America – even if that face is Barak Obama’s – is no substitute for solving the problems that we now face:

As someone who once was that young Muslim boy everyone seems to be imagining (albeit in Iran rather than Egypt), I’ll let you in on a secret: He could not care less who the president of the United States is. He is totally unconcerned with whatever barriers a black (or female, for that matter) president would be breaking. He couldn’t name three U.S. presidents if he tried. He cares only about one thing: what the United States will do.

That boy is angry at the United States not because its presidents have all been white. He is angry because of Washington’s unconditional support for Israel; because the United States has more than 150,000 troops in Iraq; because the United States gives the dictator of his country some $2 billion a year in aid, the vast majority of which goes toward supporting a police state. He is angry at the United States because he thinks it has hegemony over almost every aspect of his world.


T[his] is how the post-Bush “war on terror” must be handled. Not by “re-branding” the mess George W. Bush has made, but by actually fixing it.

*The New York Times published an article about pre-Katrina New Orleans residents establishing roots elsewhere. Tragically titled “With Regrets, New Orleans is Left Behind,” the piece contains this sobering statistic:

[Former residents] voted in 2006 clinging to a hope of return, and in some cases a desire to protect decades of black political gains by returning an African-American, C. Ray Nagin, to the mayor’s office. But while 113,000 voted in May 2006, only 53,000 did last October. The mirage of the old, comfortable life in a city of densely woven neighborhoods, beguiling if sometimes dangerous street life, and inviting po’ boy sandwich shops contrasted too sharply with the grimmer present-day reality of New Orleans for these exiles.

* Brownfemipower is on a break, but she still found the time to post on the BS that passes for cultural analysis/reporting on BET.

*Fatemeh sent this good post from Ali Eteraz analyzing the GOP’s Muslim “problem.”

*Politopics highlights a book review in the NYT highlighting some issues with black identity and recognition in Great Britain:

These two experiments were a reminder that even if the multiethnic crowd on the London tube is ever more difficult to distinguish from the one on the New York subway, British self-identity and British history remain somehow fundamentally white.

*Angry Asian Man passes on a link to learn about and support independent filmmakers (plus a few suggestions of his own.)

*After reading this piece from Sepia Mutiny, I wonder if we need a “Brown and Missing, but Not Forgotten” blog as well. Sigh.

*Jenn from Reappropriate wrote an interesting piece on Silencing the Voice of Dissent.


Random Scene from my Life (aka not really related to this post but it happened while I was collecting these links)

Latoya: (to sleepy boyfriend) Are you about to take a nap?

Boyfriend: Huh? I brushed my hair. Why are you calling me nappy?

Latoya: I asked if you were taking a nap.

Boyfriend: (turns over) Sorry, racial conditioning.

Global Link Round Up – Race Outside of the US

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

Note: All of these blogs and articles were found through the excellent organization Global Voices.


Little Black Sambo is still a hot topic for debate in Japan, with Japan Probe weighing in on the latest manifestation of the controversy:

Over at Debito.org, there is a post today containing an e-mail from a foreigner in Japan who was shocked to find that a Rainforest Cafe in Chiba Prefecture was selling “Little Black Sambo” dolls. After explaining to the staff of the store that “sambo” was racial slur for black people and that the book “Little Black Sambo” was offensive, he succeeded in getting the dolls removed from the store’s shelves.

I found the fact that the store removed the dolls to be rather surprising, given the popularity of “Little Black Sambo” in Japan. I would guess that Sambo goods are being sold at hundreds of stores throughout Japan, and the children’s picture book is available at almost any bookstore of significant size.


If one were to tell the average Japanese person that “sambo” was a racial slur similar to “nigger” and that the book “Little Black Sambo” was an offensive book full of racially insensitive imagery, one would probably be met with a response of surprise or confusion. To many Sambo is just a cute little character in a cute children’s book, and it is hard to understand what could be so offensive about it.

The post finishes with a poll:

“Little Black Sambo” is:

An racially insensitive book that should not be popular 250 – 50% of all votes
A harmless little book about a cute dark-skinned boy 255 – 50% of all votes
Total Votes: 505

Started: December 4, 2007

Mutant Frog Travelouge writes on the gross mischaracterizations of Japanese culture by Americans, specifically in reference to the Washington Post article on blogging in Japan:

The overview is essentially a series of variations on the theme “Unlike Americans, who often times blog to stand out, the Japanese blog to fit in.”
I can appreciate that this “Tokyo Stories” feature is an attempt to provide easy-to-understand vignettes about Japanese culture for an American audience. There is a lot of misunderstanding about Japan, so for readers and visitors to the Washington Post to take an interest in what’s going on on the other side of the world is extremely important. Unfortunately, the blanket generalizations and shallow analysis in this piece undermine that mission.

Continue reading

links for 2007-12-22

Two books I won’t be reading, thanks

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

A couple of books have come to my attention lately that are truly cringe-worthy. The first is self-published (thanks Wendi):

Check out the official description:

If you’re a White man interested in dating Black women, this book shows you how to make it happen. Learn how Black women think, what they like and don’t like to see in White men, and where and how to go about meeting them. Find out how to cope with public reaction to interracial couples, learn how to counteract the psychological inhibitions that can hold you back from getting involved and understand why those who oppose interracial relationships feel compelled to think and act the way they do. Find out what works and get involved.

It’s amazing how popular this genre is: self-help for the racial fetishists. See here and here and here and here for more examples.

The other one has to be the most Orientalist personal finance book every written (thanks Francesca):

As you read the official description, can’t you just smell the sweet opium hear the goooooooooonnnnnnnngggg?

Millions of readers have thrilled to the astonishing true adventures of the tiny peasant who achieved ultimate prosperity during history’s most turbulent epoch. Now, The Prosperous Peasant reveals the Secrets that guided him–and successful people the world over–since time began.

A colorful cast of teachers–the peasant-turned-samurai Hideyoshi, Kembo the Vengeful Priest, Fernao the Portuguese trader, the brilliant strategist Nobunaga, Daizen the ronin, and many others–bring to life five ageless Secrets of Fortune and Fulfillment in parables whose beauty and truthfulness haunts and inspires.

The key to Prosperity, readers learn, lies not in “techniques” or “strategies” but in ancient knowledge drawn from the great philosophies of China and Japan–wisdom more fundamental than any “how-to” advice.

Forged in an extraordinary collaboration between an acclaimed novelist and a Japan specialist who made his own fortune, The Prosperous Peasant will teach, charm, and motivate–but above all, its powerful message may change your life.

Begin your journey to prosperity and fulfillment today. Heed the ageless wisdom of The Prosperous Peasant!

This edition includes an all-new abridgment of Bushido, Nitobe’s classic on the Eight Virtues of the chivalrous code of the samurai.